Tailed off…

My ambition at cross-country championship races like the Yorkshire and Northern championships is to make the top half of the field.

Last year, I achieved my goal at the Northern cross-country championships, finishing 320th in a field of 761.  That race was on a muddy and hilly course around the Harewood Estate near Leeds (the venue for the Nationals next month).

The 2019 edition was at Pontefract Racecourse on Saturday, a course I know having raced there four years ago.  As cross-country courses go, it is one of the easier ones, undulating but with no tough hills.

After a relatively mild and dry winter so far it was reasonably firm underfoot.  If they were staging a horse race meeting, I think the going would have been described as good with patches of good to soft.

I harboured ambitions of cracking the top half once again.  I hadn’t worn my spikes since the Northerns last year but during my warm up jog they felt very uncomfortable – a bit small and I felt twinges of pain in my feet.  Fortunately, I had a pair of light trail shoes with me, so I quickly changed and decided to race in them.  It was a good decision.

The senior men’s race was billed as 12K (it was actually a little longer).  Normal cross-country wisdom dictates that one should set off like a scalded cat, establish a position in the field and then try to defend it by not fading too badly.  This is fine, but it makes for a very hard race and if you get it wrong you can be rather humiliated during the final mile by losing many places.

Because the Pontefract course is quite roomy and knowing that I am not in very good cross-country form, I thought I would try to pace it evenly.  On the first of the three laps, I wanted to it to feel comfortable, on the second I wanted to be working hard and moving through and on the final lap just give it whatever was left.

It was still congested for the first mile which I managed to cover in 6:14 (it was a bit downhill).  I felt good, I thought I was running well with reasonable form and my heart rate was in the mid 150s, about right for hard racing.

I executed my race pretty much according to my plan, maintaining an even effort and moving up through the field.  My subsequent mile splits were 6:30, 6:40, 6:28 then an uphill 6:55, to take me into the final lap. I sat in a little group of three for a few minutes and then I realised I was coasting a bit, so I pulled out and kicked on with a 6:22 6th mile.

I was having a yo-yo race with a lad from Denby Dale and we raced up the final drag towards the finishing straight.

At the top of the hill was the worst patch of mud on the whole course, the only place that my shoe choice made for a significant disadvantage.  The table tennis bat pimples on my shoes afforded about as much grip as a curling stone gets on the ice.  I veered off wide searching for traction, conceding about ten metres to the Denby runner and the others in my little group.

As we entered the finishing straight with about a furlong to go, I opened up my sprint to surge ahead of most of those that had passed me in the mud; however, the Denby lad wasn’t giving up easily and I felt him alongside with 50 metres to go.  It was one of those finishing sprints that simply came down to will power, both of us were all out, matching strides and giving it everything.

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I just managed to take it with a lunge at the line.  I slumped over the barriers for a couple of minutes, chest heaving and wondering if would be able to avoid a chunder (thankfully I did).

All this effort got me a placing of 364th in a field of 704, so nowhere near the top half.  It was a mediocre result, but I think that I raced it well.  I delivered my effort evenly and hammered the last ten minutes.  In races, you can only control your effort, the result is whatever the result is.

I was again the first irrelevant runner for my Valley Striders team, finishing 7th counter (six counted).

I was probably a bit tired after a heavy mileage week, over 66 this week and my weight is back down below 11 stones, pretty much ‘racing weight’ for me.

I’ll step the mileage down again this week, hopefully I’ll be fresh for the Dewsbury 10K next Sunday.

 

 

 

LM -13 weeks

10 stone 12.8 lbs

66.6 miles, longest run 13.3 miles

Parkrun : Roundhay 41:59 (419th)

Aerobic efficiency on long run – 1,068 beats per mile

RunBritain Ranking 2.6 (unchanged)

 

 

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Yes (Cross) Country for Old Men

I missed my 60 mile weekly target because sometimes things happen which are more important than running. It’s been a tough week to say the least.

Along with four Valley Strider teammates, I ran at the Yorkshire Veterans cross country championships on Saturday afternoon.

Cross Country isn’t my best racing variant performance-wise, however this course suited me better than most.  It was reasonably flat and not that muddy given the deluge of recent rain.

I made a bad shoe choice – I wore my spikes because the course looked suitable for them. However, it was quite stony and I kept hearing annoying crunching noises as my spikes impacted the little rocks in the ground.

I ran OK – coming 6th overall in the 50+ race and 4th in my age category, just behind Tim who made the podium in third place.  He set off quickly and had opened up a good gap on me by the middle of the race.  For much of the third and final lap I was slowly catching him, but I never got close enough to really threaten him and he finished strongly.

Valley Striders came away with the victory spoils in the team event:

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I’m really looking forward to next weekend, a road trip to the beautiful city of Bath and hopefully a crack at my half marathon PB.

LM -7 weeks

52.8 miles, longest run 11.2 miles

Weight 11 St 0.8 lbs

Aerobic efficiency on Sunday run 938 beats per mile

 

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Back to Square One

I definitely overdid the mileage last week. When my left achilles tendon was too sore to run on again on Monday I decided to not run for at least a week. I actually meant it this time, I simply have to get this sorted.

This injury is becoming chronic and is now worrying me.  Now is the time that I ought to be really stepping up my training and banging our 60 mile plus weeks with 20 mile long runs every week.

The only meagre consolation from not running is that there is a lot less washing to do. There is no other advantage as far as I am concerned.

Work is quite stressful for me at the moment for reasons I won’t bore anyone with.  I normally declutter my whirling brain each lunchtime by running for at least 9 miles. I have really missed my lunchtime run more than anything else this week.  I could have gone out walking instead, but that doesn’t cut it for me, so I moped off to the café each lunchtime, got myself an unhealthy sandwich and went back to my desk and carried on working.

A midweek Facebook post reminded me that I had put my name down for the Northern Cross Country championship at Blackburn on Saturday.  I was about to explain my predicament and make my excuses when it became clear that Valley Striders had only six male entries.  Six finishers is the minimum number required for a team result. The deadline for entries had long since passed, so basically, I had to run.  I explained that I would not be quick, but I would turn out.

I travelled across to Blackburn with team-mates Jon and Kev.  Jon had researched the course and said that it was brutal and the men’s course of 12K contained nearly a thousand feet of ascent. Kev and I laughed, that just couldn’t be true, could it…

Unfortunately for us, on Saturday afternoon God was fiddling about with his new weather app. He gave us intermittent blasts of driving rain, gusting winds, a few minutes of watery sunshine, then weird ten minute squalls of hailstones and sleet.

Three months of record-breaking rainfall totals and a full programme of junior races left the course looking like a mass of farmyard slurry, there was barely a blade of green to be seen. One of our lady racers even lost her shoe in the deep mud.

My plan was to run steadily, see how the injury felt and just to make sure that I got round so that I counted for the team. I had my 15mm spikes in and I had triple knotted my shoes tightly to ensure that they remained on my feet.

The men’s race was four 3K laps of the park. After about two hundred yards I realised that my spikes were virtually useless. In twenty five centimetres of mud, it didn’t matter what you wore, because your feet were going to slip sideways on every stride.

As expected the race was brutal.  With two long steep climbs into the wind on each lap, runners were strewn all over the place. During my second lap we had the added bonus of another horizontal hail storm right into our faces. You simply could not lift up your head. It was savage.

My 10K race pace on the road is about 5 minutes 50 per mile. In this race, when I was running about as hard as I was physically able to go my mile splits were:  7:39, 8:25, 8:54, 8:46, 9:31, 9:37 and 8:39.  On the bright side, because of the hellish conditions, I didn’t have time to think about my achilles. I was aware of some mild discomfort, but I had bigger things to worry about, like how to get myself to the end of this bloody ordeal.

I was lapped at the start of my third lap. Maybe the first thirty lads in the field eventually lapped me. I didn’t care.

The winner was Charlie Hulson, a multiple GB International and the reigning National cross country champion. He completed the course in just over 43 minutes at 6 minutes per mile pace. In those conditions, that was superhuman.

I finished in 394th position in 1 hour, 2 minutes 38 seconds. There were 719 finishers, and a lot more starters because I’m sure there was a high dropout rate. With a skeleton team of just 6, Valley Striders finished in 22nd position out of 52 teams in the men’s and the four ladies finished 24th out of 40. No Striders dropped out. Chapeau to every one of my team-mates.

Here’s a picture of my gleaming yellow Puma cross country spikes after the race:

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Unfortunately the race has aggravated my Achilles – unsurprising really. I tried to go for gentle recovery jog tonight (Sunday), but after about four hundred metres I abandoned the run and skulked home.

Tomorrow, I’m making an appointment with a sports injury clinic.

 

 

 

CM -17 weeks

7.5 miles

Weight 11st 5 lb

Parkrun – None

Longest run 7.1 miles

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The Trials of Not Running

Although I ramble on about running as well as other random topics, one thing that I don’t want this blog to become is a moanfest about injuries, or any other problems I have encountered for that matter.

Injuries are an occupational hazard for all runners and so far I have managed to stay on the luckier than most side of equation.

However, for a couple of weeks, I have been struggling with achilles tendonitis – causing me mild to moderate pain. I have been self-treating the problem by doing lots of heel drops and by wearing an icepack around my heel most evenings, together with a bit of self-massage (exclusively on my achilles I hasten to add).

I have found that after a couple of days, the pain abates and I can go running again, so I have been out running every two or three days.  However, on the day following a run, my achilles is usually too sore to run.  I am stuck in a seemingly endless loop.

Even just writing the few sentences above make it patently clear that I really need to stop running for a week or so in the hope that the problem will clear itself up.  So I will.

I did turn out at the Yorkshire Cross Country Championships at Lightwater Valley on Saturday afternoon.  I missed the event in 2015 through illness so I was anxious not to miss it again

With record rainfall in the North of England during December and January, the course could be described as being a little on the heavy side.  Well, actually it was a bloody quagmire in places, but that made it more fun.

I am a great believer in the need to be mentally strong in order to perform well in races.  Unfortunately, given my on-going achilles issues, I wasn’t even sure whether I would, or indeed should, run.  I chewed it over in my mind, lurching from “no, I mustn’t run, I might make the injury worse”, to “just toughen the f*ck up you wimp and get on with it”.

In the end, I decided on a typical pathetic compromise –I would go along, do the warm up and then decide if I felt OK to run.

Having got ready, travelled an hour to the venue with my team-mates Gary and Hannah, got soaked whilst checking that a flood was safe to drive through, met and chatted with club-mates and then put my new spikes on and stripped to my vest, I was always going to run, so I did.

I knew the standard would be high.  My only experience of a race of similar quality was the Northerns last year when I finished well into the bottom half of the field.  I told myself that a top half finish would be an OK result.

The starting pens were narrow and very crowded.  I was anxious not to impede any of my faster team-mates, so I went towards the back of our pen.

The start was a farcical. There were nearly 300 in the field and the course started with a short 80 metre straight and then a narrow right hand turn. Without any warning, and a minute or two ahead of schedule the gun fired and the race started. I couldn’t have gone off hard, even if I had wanted to. I was reduced to a walk and then a complete standstill at the first bend, stuck behind a mass of other runners.

It may have been a blessing, because 10.6 kilometres in deep mud is a tough test.  I spent the first couple of laps passing other lads, trying to establish my rightful position in the field. I ran the first three miles in around 6:50 each.

The course comprised four and a half laps and by the third big lap I was feeling it.  If I were a racehorse, I would not be suited by heavy going.  Some athletes just seem able to glide or skip through the mud, but there must be something in my running mechanics that doesn’t work well in soft ground. I was floundering and getting slower.

I conceded a few places meekly during the last lap and a bit, eventually grovelling home in 133rd place out of 269 finishers, so amazingly I just scraped my goal of a top half finish.

Although I enjoyed the event and I ran hard, I felt a little hollow because I know that I wasn’t mentally tough and 100% on it.

I have an entry in the Inskip half marathon next Sunday, as I write this, I have no idea whether I will be able to start. If I do, I’ll have fairly low expectations given the low mileage over the previous three weeks.

CM – 21 weeks. 19.8 miles
Weight 11st 4.5 lbs
parkruns: None
Longest run 9 miles

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